This article was first published on Brexit Central.
Today (Tuesday), the European Parliament will elect a new President. The holder of this powerful position, capable of directing the Parliament’s legislative agenda – influential in the behind-closed-doors negotiations which usually determine how the EU is governed and likely to be a significant force in Brexit negotiations – is currently staunch Euro-integrationist, Martin Schulz. But with Schulz leaving to pursue a career in German domestic politics, a vacancy has arisen.
Normally this vacancy would be quietly filled according to a deal between the Parliament’s two major blocs, the centre-left S&D (which includes Schulz) and the centre-right EPP. Despite their ideological differences, these groups have a long-standing habit of putting aside their principles and working together for their common goal of ‘more Europe’ – meaning, of course, more powers for themselves.
But the deal which had been in place stipulated Schulz’s successor would be from the EPP, who also control the other two key Eurocrat offices – the Presidencies of the European Commission and European Council. Fearing being frozen out by a dominant EPP, the S&D have torn up the deal and are putting up a rival candidate.
Is this the dawning of a serious, multi-party, competitive democracy in Brussels? Not quite.
There’s hardly a stark contrast to draw between the two candidates with any chance of winning – the S&D’s Gianni Pittella, an undistinguished, 58-year-old Italian Euro-integrationist; and the EPP’s Antonio Tajani, an undistinguished, 63-year-old Italian Euro-integrationist.
For the few Europeans who have heard of him, Tajani, a loyal supporter of the disgraced Silvio Berlusconi, is best known as a former European Commissioner who allegedly ignored warnings of widespread cheating in emissions tests by companies like Volkswagen. Pittella, meanwhile, is most notable for simply having been an MEP for eighteen years.
The closest thing to a ‘high-profile’ candidate (but still, a virtual unknown in Britain) would be Guy Verhofstadt, an outspoken Eurofederalist, former Prime Minister of Belgium, and currently the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator. He’s the candidate of the centrist ALDE bloc, another Euro-integrationist group worried about the EPP freezing them out. However, his chances have faded to nothing after a bizarre, failed attempt to forge an alliance with his ideological opposites in the Five Star Movement, an Italian party allied to UKIP and known for their anti-Establishment Euroscepticism.
All in all, this is definitely not a normal election. In a functioning democracy, politicians as low-profile as Pittella, or as compromised as Tajani, would not be considered serious candidates for such a powerful office. Verhofstadt would not dare try to forge such a cynical, opportunistic alliance – and if he did, he’d have had to deal with the fury of his party and his voters.
Even the supposed collapse of the EPP and S&D’s ‘grand coalition’ is a total sham. As centre-right French MEP Alain Lamassaoure has noted, “the Grand Coalition is inescapable and has been since 1979.” Lamassaoure further said breaking the alliance would “let Eurosceptic groups arbitrate the EU’s political choices. And we can’t allow that.”
So, whether the winner be Tajani or Pittella, normal service will resume and the ratchet of EU integration will continue unabated, with zero regard for whether the peoples of Europe want it or not – or how it might affect Brexit.
Normal democracies, of course, do not have 38-year-old ‘grand coalitions’. But the European Parliament is not a normal democracy. It is a sham; a freakish, Frankenstein-like imitation of a democracy.
Voters in European Parliament elections can mark a cross on a ballot paper, but nothing ever changes. The blocs in the Parliament are not on any of the ballot papers, and their leading figures are obscure. Turnout is always dire. Campaigning and voting invariably follows national politics – except when people protest against the EU. And the European Parliament, let us remember, is the most ‘democratic’ of all the EU’s institutions.
Over six months down the line from the EU referendum, these sham elections serve as a timely reminder of the democratic case for Brexit – and for leaving the Single Market, membership of which would require us to continue to implement many of the EU’s laws. At Get Britain Out, we believe on June 23rd the Great British public voted to be rid of this charade, and to return the governance of this country by its own elected institutions.
Westminster may not be perfect. But it is a system where the two main parties oppose each other, fight for their causes, and replace each other in government. Where total ideological opposites like, say, the LibDems and UKIP don’t try to forge cynical alliances. Where the main parties are actually on the ballot papers. Where decisions are made with at least some degree of transparency. And where the leading political figures are actually household names. We are certainly much better off being ruled from Westminster than by the Brussels of Tajani or Pittella.